Deserter (1933, Vsevolod Pudovkin)

Another Russian movie full of visual and sound innovation that wears out its welcome after an hour and forty-five minutes of tedious state propaganda. I’m lost from the beginning – when the workers strike, are we on their side? We must be – in a Russian movie we are always on the workers’ side. But then wise Zelle with his hitler mustache tells us that a strike is unwise. A newsgirl is scolded by a policeman. Police vs. striker battle. Months pass. A boat is named “the five-year plan”. Someone is killed by a car chauffeuring a bored rich gentleman. Another guy jumps into the river (in gorgeous slow-mo) after reading a headline about mechanizations that can replace ten workers with a single machine operator. Negotiations continue. Finally the strikers are machine-gunned down, then strike-breakers march in while the soundtrack still plays the moans of the dying. Meanwhile, striker Karl Renn stays home because he’s tired of the whole thing. The survivors, I suppose, hold a meeting and decide to send four reps to the Soviet Union aboard “their” ship. I wasn’t aware that shipyard workers owned the ships they built, nor did I realize until halfway through the movie that it’s set in Germany! Whoops.

They send the four least useful workers, including shirker Karl Renn, to Russia for inspiration or something. After a massive welcoming parade, Karl joins a factory for some months, and sees it pull together with shock workers to complete an important project. Much, much, much typical proletariat talk precedes and follows, culminating in an endless speech by Renn made more endless by a german-russian translator. I did learn that the enemy of the German workers is the “social democrats” – should’ve realized that. Back in Germany, Zelle is dead and Renn joins the struggle. Movie ends with a wordless montage of cops beating the shit out of protestors.

It’s a part-talkie with total silence during some scenes. There are cool sound moments in others. The newsgirl’s voice keeps cutting off the music, which immediately restarts after, cut into shreds. Extremely rapid-fire cutting at times, too fast for my computer to keep from fragmenting the DVD image, with almost subliminal shots of explosions during the machine-guns-vs.-strikers scene. More explosions are superimposed over quick-cut exciting scenes – Pudovkin was a proto-Michael Bay.

Renn: “Long live communist party!”

From one of the writers of Potemkin. The newsgirl was Tamara Makarova, a film actress through the 80’s, and Karl Renn was in October. In Germany we see a movie theater playing Madchen In Uniform.

The NY Times’ 1934 review begins: “While the crushing of the labor movement in Germany during the two years devoted by V.I. Pudovkin to the production of his first dialogue motion picture has robbed it of much of its timeliness, the main theme of Deserter remains unaffected by the triumph of Hitlerism.”

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